Zanella: a case study in reinvention

by Karen Alberg Grossman
Paul Buckter and Andrew Weisbrot

Among the most frequent complaints by menswear merchants these days: there’s nothing new in the market that guys don’t already own. And indeed, most closets are already fi­lled with all the fi­ve-pocket pants, jeans, skinny suits, quilted vests and hybrid sneakers a guy will ever need.

Clearly, these frustrated retailers have not yet entered Zanella’s midtown Manhattan showroom where they’ll discover an array of sophisticated dress trousers crafted from luxury fabrics in rich fall colors and patterns. Worn with an unstructured knit blazer, chunky turtleneck or cashmere cardigan, it’s an updated take on “business casual” that any corporate exec (or aspiring one) will love! Smart retailers should consider aggressively promoting this look (store windows, mannequins, social media) as a new way of dressing for fall 2020.

Zanella was established in 1954 and rescued out of bankruptcy four years ago by Bill Sweedler at Tengram Capital, who last July called on seasoned menswear exec Paul Buckter (Canali, Brioni, Hugo Boss) to spearhead a relaunch. Buckter immediately brought in his former Brioni colleague Andrew Weisbrot and the two have been working fast and furiously ever since.

LESSONS FROM PAST MISTAKES

Buckter con­des that their fi­rst step in reinventing the brand was learning about past problems from their key accounts. “They told us three things: 1) the brand had gotten boring; 2) our fabrics were not technical enough; and 3) our pricepoints were high. So, we set out to create a younger, cooler, more affordable collection based on fashion, comfort, and performance. Where we previously retailed in the $350-$500 range, we’re now $298-$398, still crafted in Bari, Italy. While our competition went higher, we distinguished ourselves by pricing lower, and putting more into the product.”

Famous for its great ­fit, one of Zanella’s secrets is a unique natural stretch waistband produced on a special machine that, combined with their three-button closure, adds comfort and performance to the trouser. As for styling, Buckter notes that most fall 2020 models will be a bit trimmer. Of course, the collection will offer enough variety to accommodate a diverse customer base. “Mr. Porter buys a fashion model with single pleats and side tabs. Macy’s buys our diffusion line, flat front with ­finished bottoms. Other stores want a skinnier fi­t. We’ll show different avenues so we don’t get pigeonholed,” Buckter confi­rms.

THINKING FRESH

While Zanella is continuing its renowned in-stock program, both Buckter and Weisbrot strongly believe that retailers should be taking more fashion risks, e.g. the bolder patterns and colors in the fall 2020 collection. A ZNL derivative pants collection priced at $195 retail (and recently launched at Macy’s) is a new direction for the brand and a possible entry into a more moderately-priced universe. Zanella’s new marketing program will soon feature a recognizable infl­uencer as a brand ambassador. And get ready for their newest category: luxury performance pants in an ultra-soft four-way stretch fabric that’s printed to look like a rich lofty ­flannel.

To enhance the fall 2020 collection, which is 95% bottoms, Zanella has added outerwear and knits that relate back to the trousers. An unstructured knit sportcoat at $595 suggested retail is priced well under the competition; a fabulous zip-front vest (with sustainable fill made from oyster shells and plastic bottles) is $395.

A RETAILER PERSPECTIVE

Who better to ask what retailers could be doing to jumpstart sales than two guys with impressive retail credentials. Weisbrot responds based on his past five years at Garmany and Boyds. “The key is educating sales associates about how to sell new looks. In great stores, the store is the brand and the sellers are brand ambassadors. Sellers need the confidence to speak to customers with authority. Product knowledge is critical but sellers also need to learn the basics: how to shake hands, how to build relationships and sustain them. Especially today with so much online competition, stores need to provide a fun, engaging in-store experience with incredible service that can’t be had by clicking a button. Store owners need to create a culture that’s relaxed, comfortable and friendly, where sellers suggest but never push. They also need to invest back in the store to let clients know they believe in the business. Kenny and Johnell do this brilliantly: customers recognize their passion and want to support them.”

“Even if you can’t do a multi-million renovation, some fresh paint and new ­floors can make a big difference,” adds Buckter, who recalls his early days working at Barneys and Bloomingdale’s. “Barneys always featured the best of the best: they brought in merchandise that no one else would dream of. And Marvin Traub virtually invented the concept of experiential retail with his storewide country promotions.”

Concludes Weisbrot, “I spent a lot of time at Boyds’ on the selling ­floor and would often hear customers say that they just don’t need anything new to wear. But they bought anyway. It’s about creating desire with the right mix of product, service, and environment. It sounds simplistic but that’s really what it takes.”

3 Replies to “ZANELLA: A CASE STUDY IN REINVENTION”

Comments are closed.